Tuesday, June 22

Elon Musk demos Neuralink implant in pigs, Ellipsis Health’s vocal biomarker app launch and more digital health news briefs

Hogwash, or a brain activity breakthrough? Friday evening came with a long-awaited look at the work of Neuralink, Elon Musk’s ambitious brain-computer interface implant startup. In the streamed progress update, Musk ran down a PowerPoint overview of the technology’s capabilities, which he likened to “a Fitbit in your skull.” The coin-shaped implant will read and wirelessly transmit brain signals to a nearby smart device, be relatively imperceptible when implanted flush with the skull, be able to be introduced and removed without causing damage to the user’s brain, and have a full day of battery life he said.

The centerpiece of the demo were pigs that Musk said had either been implanted with the device, or recently had the device removed. A visual and audio display of one pig’s brain activity was presented to the audience, which Musk said was a real-time demonstration of the pig’s brain stimuli as it sniffed around its pen.

According to the presentation, Neuralink received FDA Breakthrough Device designation in July, and is preparing approvals and safety testing for a first-ever human implantation that Musk said would be happening “soon.” Immediate use cases offered by Musk included limb position prediction for prosthetics, but the tech founder did not shy away from more ambitious targets such as depression, PTSD or even connecting to a Tesla vehicle further down the line.

An ear for behavioral health. Voice-based vital signs company Ellipsis Health announced today the wide release of its Rising Higher app, a clinical decision support tool that helps providers and payers measure anxiety and depression symptoms.

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The company’s cloud-based algorithms listens to a patient’s speech to make its behavioral health predictions, and is intended for use either as a health screen or a remote monitoring device. It’s available on the App Store and Google Play store, and may be integrated with other mobile and web apps or APIs.

“Since our current system has a major reliance on self-reporting or recognition by non-behavioral health providers, too many patients receive treatment too late,” Dr. Michael Aratow, cofounder and chief medical officer of Ellipsis, said in a statement. “Even for patients that are diagnosed, clinicians have little insight into a patient’s life outside of a clinical encounter with few early warning signs of deterioration or relapse. Ellipsis Health’s speech-based vital signs enable providers to identify people that need assistance much sooner and gain visibility into their mental states over time in a consistent and scalable manner.”

Abbott quickly ships out its new COVID tests. Hot on the heels of its Emergency Use Authorization, Abbott struck a $750 million deal with the Trump administration to provide 150 million rapid, app-paired COVID-19 tests, Politico reports. Sources said that the tests would be distributed to nursing homes, schools and other high-risk populations.

According to Abbott, the tests will be produced at a rate of 1 million per day, and for a cost of $5 can yield a test result in as little as 15 minutes.

Keeping track of complex care. A new platform has launched that focuses on helping chronic disease patients receiving complex care from multiple providers.

Backed by a Y Combinator grant and the XX Accelerator, the Wingspan mobile tool helps organize and manage various patient portals, diagnoses, symptoms, appointments and recommendations on a mobile platform.

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